Living with credit

Money lessons I learned from a medical bill snafu

Karen Haywood Queen

Numerous studies show that paying cash can save you money compared to paying by credit card. But as with every rule, there are exceptions. I was reminded of that again recently when I received a bill from my 17-year-old daughter’s chiropractor.
The bill  was confusing on multiple fronts. There were actually two bills, one for $66 and one for $180 without any explanation. The bill also wasn’t clear whether insurance claims had been paid or rejected. Further, the bill did not note any times my daughter didn’t pay the required insurance co-pay. Since I knew that my daughter occasionally forgot to bring the credit card I gave her to cover the $20 co-pay, a phone call was in order.
Money lessons I learned from a medical bill snafu
On the phone, the accounts employee explained that one bill was for massage, covered by insurance in this case, and the other was for chiropractic adjustments, also covered by insurance. When I asked whether our insurance had made its final ruling/payment, she wasn’t sure. When I noted that the bill was confusing in light of possible pending insurance, she replied she had to send a bill every month showing what we owed anyway. Did I owe $66? $180? She had no definitive answer. I decided to wait a little longer on insurance.
Then I asked about the co-pays. I knew my daughter had left my credit card at home for her last appointment. Was that the only time? Oh no, responded the account clerk. My daughter had failed to pay on Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27. I had one answer then. We definitely owed $100 in co-pays. I got ready to write a check so we wouldn’t be on the chiropractor’s bad list or worse, reported to collections and see a ding on our credit report/credit score.
But although I knew my daughter was disorganized, I had also lost respect for this chiropractor’s billing system. I decided further investigation was in order. A quick check of our credit card statement revealed payments of $20 on Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27 to this chiropractor.
Total owed: $20.

If I had given my daughter $20 cash each time instead of my credit card, I’d probably have no proof of the bills being paid. Because let’s be realistic, even if the chiropractor had given my daughter a receipt, she likely would have lost it or I would have forgotten to ask her for it.
My first takeaway: never pay a bill, medical or otherwise, that you don’t understand. If it’s a medical bill, make sure insurance claims have been exhausted before writing a check. If you overpay, you can get the money back eventually. But you’ve lost the use of the funds in the meantime. Short-term savings: $246.
Second takeaway: your credit card can save you money by leaving a paper trail of payments made. Permanent savings: $80.

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  • Scott

    I’ve had them mess up so much on medical bills. Once, they didn’t bother sending it to my secondary insurance. Then another time they claimed they did and it paid zero. However, I called them and they didn’t even submit it. Make sure you keep good records and all the bills they send you!